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Land Dispute Keeps Santa Ana and Tustin at Odds.

SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Gray Davis has signed a bill siding with two school districts in their prolonged dispute with the city of Tustin over land on the old Tustin Marine Corps Air Station.

The bill, signed into law earlier this month, requires that 100 acres of the former base be transferred to the Santa Ana Unified School District and the Rancho Santiago Community College District before the rest is developed.

Tustin Mayor Tracy Wills Worley said the city will sue to overturn the law.

The controversy dates back to 1994, when the U.S. Department of Education approved the districts' applications for land at the base. About 120 acres of the base is within the two Santa Ana districts' boundaries.

However, Tustin was named by the federal government as the agency to redevelop the base in 1995 and rejected the districts' claims for the land.

Tustin's redevelopment plan for the base gives land to the Tustin and Irvine districts and South Orange County Community College District, but it offers none to the Santa Ana schools.

The two districts and the city of Tustin have been negotiating without success. The districts want land free of contamination at the 1,600-acre former base. Negotiations in June dissolved when the districts rejected the city's offer of 37 acres elsewhere on the base plus $40 million to help with overcrowding.

The bill takes effect Jan. 1, 2002, but lawmakers said any agreement reached by the parties before then would nullify the bill.

"The parties are very close, and I am hopeful that the lawsuits will end and that the parties can reach an agreement by the end of the year," said the author, Assemblyman Lou Correa, D-Anaheim.

"This action should lay the groundwork for earnest dialogue with the city of Tustin so we can reach settlement, bring closure to the issue and move on," said Rancho Santiago Chancellor Edward Hernandez.

Santa Ana Superintendent Al Mijares also said the bill would "open the door to sincere negotiations."

However, Tustin Mayor Worley called the bill "flawed and illegal" and said it will make the situation worse by tying the redevelopment up in the courts.

The mayor said no new classrooms, day-care facilities, parks or job-producing industries will be built "until the cloud over the base created by this legislation is resolved."

In a message to lawmakers, Davis said he was signing the bill with "great reluctance," because he thinks local land use disputes should be settled without state intervention. He implored the three agencies to continue negotiations.

The city of Tustin wants to sell the land within the districts to help pay for converting the former helicopter base into homes and businesses.

Santa Ana Unified School District, with 60,000 students, is the state's fifth-largest. Enrollment, which is 92 percent Hispanic, has grown more than 23 percent in the past decade.

Eighteen members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus sent Davis a letter they wrote asking President Bush to direct the Department of the Navy to give the land directly to the districts.

Two Latino rights groups and the districts have filed a federal discrimination suit against Tustin.

The bill has been heavily lobbied during the last year. Santa Aha Unified reported spending $13,501 during the first six months of this year to push the legislation and other bills.

Tustin listed lobbying expenses of $144,511 for its priorities.
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Title Annotation:school districts
Publication:Community College Week
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:Aug 20, 2001
Words:562
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